Sex, Gender and the Sacred

The road to the sacred runs through the carnal. Not only the Bible but Life itself reveals that sexuality is more spiritual than biological. The erotic is God's poetry of love calling us out of ourselves to awareness of beauty and to an expansive creativity and giving of ourselves. We go to God through one another, via loving, not apart from one another. --Paschal.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Catholic Moment of Truth, opinion.

A Catholic moment of truth
By James Carroll | October 3, 2005

TO BE A Roman Catholic in Rome this week is to remember, among so much else, the way in which leaders of this church have squandered their moral authority in recent years.

In 1968, it was the disastrous anti-birth control encyclical ''Humanae
Vitae," which opened a gulf between the hierarchy and the laity and which lately
has the church on the wrong side of the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The
coterie of American bishops chosen by Pope John Paul II failed their greatest
test by protecting abusive priests instead of the children who were their
victims. Now, church authority stands on the edge of yet another act of moral
self-mutilation with a coming ''instruction" banning homosexuals from seminaries.
Such a policy threatens to turn an imminent program of ''apostolic
visitations" of US seminaries, which overtly targets ''heresy," into a full blown
sexual witch hunt.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have had direct and indirect contact with
well-connected Catholics here -- hardly a hotbed of liberalism -- and the
coming instruction is regarded as a catastrophe in the making. With boards of
Vatican-appointed investigators poised to swoop down on American schools in
which new priests are trained, interrogations of candidates and loyalty tests for
teachers already betray a nostalgia for the bygone era of thought-control
and snitching. A formally licensed obsession with homosexuality will push the
investigation into a realm, as one senior priest put it to me, more of Joseph
Stalin than Jesus Christ.
Instead of asking hard questions about the root causes of the priestly sex
abuse scandal -- facing problems of the clerical culture itself, including
celibacy, authoritarianism, discrimination against women, the immaturity of
church teachings on sexuality -- Rome is preparing to scapegoat homosexuals. The
idea is astoundingly foolish, based on fantasies of sexual deviance.
Supposedly aimed at seminarians, the new discipline is an attack on the priesthood
itself, especially on those openly gay men who have proven themselves as
faithful servants of the church. It is an invitation for such men to return to the
closet, a retreat into psychological imprisonment. Such demonizing of
homosexuals is profoundly unjust.
But the policy, combined with the investigation's threat against all
nonconformity, infantilizes every present or would-be member of the American
Catholic clergy. During the abuse crisis, the ineptness of bishops brought stern
challenges from the middle ranks of clergy. Are bishops now attempting, with
this ruthless discipline, to eliminate the capacity for independent moral
thought that made those challenges not only possible but necessary?
From Boston, the epicenter of the crisis, comes the chilling news that one of
the brave priests who saved the church's soul by calling for Cardinal
Bernard Law's resignation, the Rev. Walter Cuenin, has been unjustly fired from his
position as pastor at Our Lady, Help of Christians in Newton. Cuenin is an
exemplary priest. That he has been slandered by the archdiocese in the process
of his removal is a mortal betrayal. There are reports that many of the
other pastors who challenged Law have been shunted aside as well.
Cardinal Law, the icon of failure, is ensconced in a prestigious position
here in Rome. He is an icon of denial, too. Instead of a reformation of all that
made the sex abuse crisis possible, the hierarchy is circling its wagons.
Good people are being sacrificed. Cruelty as a mode of church governance is
back. Sexual imperialism is reasserted as a method of control. The culture of
dishonesty lives.
Will it work? The people I talk to here think not. There are gay bishops in
the church, some of whom will feel forced to support the new scapegoating.
What happens when, in return for their hypocrisy, they are ''outed"?
Theologians, whose work of rational inquiry requires a free play of the mind, will
reject the strictures of a heresy hunt. Gay priests will refuse to be closeted
again, and their straight brothers will not participate in the denigration.
Religious orders will defend their members. When the grand inquisitors arrive at
seminaries, candidates for the priesthood who have any self-respect will
simply walk away. The Catholic people will not allow their good priests to be
insulted further.
Can the church be spared this disaster? As of now, the power to avert it
rests with one man. The new policy has not been formally promulgated. Pope
Benedict XVI could call it off. Whether that is likely to occur is not the point.
The world has been awaiting the revelation of his capacity for moral
leadership. It is here.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.
© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Homosexuality and the Bible: some thoughts

What matters is not who said it, but what is said. -- St. Thomas Aquinas.

One of the issues causing breakdown of communication, division and bad feelings in many church denominations is the diverse views of homosexuality. Two Baptist churches were expelled from their conference yesterday in Atlanta for their views, with the conference refusing dialogue they requested. This disagreement involves different views over church acceptance, marriage and ordination of gays and lesbians. Scripture is quoted by some as the final authority. Many believe that the Bible has unequivocally condemned homosexuality, and some are closed to any discussion of other views.

When we consider that literal biblical texts have been quoted in the past to uphold slavery (for almost 1900 years by a predominantly white Christianity), to battle against the way illnesses were treated, to justify treatment of Jews, to condemn any form of taking interest on money lent, and holding women in the class of second class citizenship, we should be cautious about certain judgments based on the Bible. Defenders of each of these ideas claimed to be acting according to the clear teaching of scripture. The authoritative use of any Bible text quoted literally is questionable in these matters. For those who understand how frequently the Bible has been misinterpreted to the substantial harm and even cruelty to many, the Bible cannot have the absolute authority that many want to give it today. The Inquisition in which persons accused of heresy were tortured and burned at the stake lasted from the time of Innocent III, in 1192, until the middle of the 19th century in Spain, some 650 years.

Professor Walter Wink (Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City), has documented the inconsistent biblical attitudes toward all human sexual practices. The Bible condemned some practices which we also condemn: incest, rape, adultery, and intercourse with animals. But the Bible also condemned other practices which we today either generally allow or at least do not universally condemn: intercourse during menstruation, celibacy, marriage to non-Jews, naming sexual organs, nudity under certain conditions, masturbation, and birth control. Some Christians condemn one or more of these, but in the past, the Bible was assumed to be quite clear and debate was not allowed.

The Bible also regarded semen and menstrual blood as unclean, which most people living today do not. Finally, the Bible permitted these behaviors which we today condemn: prostitution, polygamy, levirate marriage, sex with slaves, concubinage, treatment of women as property, and very early marriage (for a girl aged 11 to 13).

Consider, therefore, of the twenty Biblical sexual mores listed here, we now agree with the Bible only on four of them and we disagree with it on sixteen. So when religious persons claim support of scripture for their condemnation of homosexuality, it becomes clear that maybe something else is operating here, perhaps a need for definitive judgments on sexual behavior, perhaps homophobia. The Bible is ambiguous about specific sexual practices. Real knowledge of scripture in these matters does not result in certainty. Even that instance often quoted to demonstrate the clear denunciation of the sin of homosexuality (Romans 1) confronts us with the strange idea that if we do not worship God properly, He will punish us with homosexuality and all sorts of evil. Paul also insisted that women keep quiet in church, speak only to their husbands at night, and keep their heads covered.

Language is always an inadequate tool for grasping mystery. When we are speaking of the Divinity or the Divine Will, we can never be sure that the word or concept we have chosen or which the sacred writer has chosen is equivalent to the mysterious entity it is supposed to represent. Our cognitive maps and terms are never equivalent to the territory–they only represent the territory, always inadequately. Given our prevalent use in history of the Bible to condemn others, we should retain some humility and some skepticism that we have understood God’s will, especially when we are interpreting it for others. If truth be known, we often have a difficult time deciphering it for ourselves in the many challenges we face in the world in which we live. In another place I have suggested that “sin is believing that God is on our side” in an issue. Certainty can certainly be in the service of pride and arrogance. “Concepts create idols, only wonder understands anything.” Gregory of Nyssa, 5th century Church Father.

Excessive claims for Holy Scripture, e.g. the assertion that the Bible is certainly the in-errant word (it cannot err) of God, always to be obeyed, are indefensible today, regardless of who utters them. Our own interpretation of the bible is colored by our history, our times and our culture. Recall that Christians found justification for discrimination of every sort against the Jews for most of history. They were “Christ-killers” and the gospels told the Christians and hierarchy this was so. Hitler could brag that he was finishing what the church started.

Unfortunately, the official interpreters of the Bible, including most religious leaders, have never faced those errors in their teaching and never admitted their mistakes. As long as that continues to happen, religious leaders will inappropriately use the power of their positions for control and conformity, not in a role of a servant leadership aimed at empowering the People of God to undertake their own inquiry. We suggest that the Bible alone cannot be used for interpreting the will of God today. People can find what they want to in the Bible. We know that even the devil can quote it for his use. Neither the Bible nor tradition nor reason is itself adequate in interpreting what this mystery we call God intends. Furthermore, most Christians have never learnt a spirit of inquiry, being taught how to discover for themselves the will of God in certain matters. In another place I suggest we have thirteen sources of revelation today, and in another why and how the spirit of inquiry is necessary today.

Just as there was no way for the biblical writers to understand that the earth was not the center of the cosmos, or “heaven” was not up, not a place, so there is much more they did not understand concerning the human condition today. They could not understand science and industry, or a society based on human rights. Most certainly many writers did not understand that slavery was wrong. They certainly could not understand that some persons are born with an attraction to their own gender. Wink, respected biblical scholar, points out that the sexual behavior Paul condemns is pederasty, or the sexual behavior between youth and adults, and not that between consenting adults. The entire pamphlet is recommended.

Walter Wink. Homosexuality and the Bible, 1997. Published independently.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Teens and Gay Identity, study, Time magazine, Oct 2

Sunday, Oct. 02, 2005
The Battle Over Gay Teens
What happens when you come out as a kid? How gay youths are challenging the right--and the left
Time magazine, Oct 2, 2005.

In May, David Steward, a former president of TV Guide, and his partner Pierre Friedrichs, a caterer, hosted an uncomfortably crowded cocktail party at their Manhattan apartment. It was a typical gay fund raiser--there were lemony vodka drinks with mint sprigs; there were gift bags with Calvin Klein sunglasses; Friedrichs prepared little blackened-tuna-with-mango-chutney hors d'oeuvres that were served by uniformed waiters. Billionaire philanthropist Edgar Bronfman Sr. was there; David Mixner, a gay activist and longtime friend of Bill Clinton's, was holding court with Jason Moore, director of the musical Avenue Q.

But the odd thing was that the gay (and gay-friendly) élite had gathered to raise money not for one of its established charities--the Human Rights Campaign, say, or the Democratic National Committee--but for an obscure organization that has quietly become one of the fastest-growing gay groups in the nation, the Point Foundation. Launched in 2001, Point gives lavish (often full-ride) scholarships to gay students. It is one of the few national groups conceived explicitly to help gay kids, and it is a leading example of how the gay movement is responding to the emergence this decade of hundreds of thousands of openly gay youths.

Kids are disclosing their homosexuality with unprecedented regularity--and they are doing so much younger. The average gay person now comes out just before or after graduating high school, according to The New Gay Teenager, a book Harvard University Press published this summer. The book quotes a Penn State study of 350 young people from 59 gay groups that found that the mean age at which lesbians first have sexual contact with other girls is 16; it's just 14 for gay boys. In 1997 there were approximately 100 gay-straight alliances (GSAs)--clubs for gay and gay-friendly kids--on U.S. high school campuses. Today there are at least 3,000 GSAs--nearly 1 in 10 high schools has one--according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN, say "glisten"), which registers and advises GSAs. In the 2004-05 academic year, GSAs were established at U.S. schools at the rate of three per day.

The appearance of so many gay adolescents has, predictably, worried social conservatives, but it has also surprised gay activists, who for years did little to help the few teenagers who were coming out. Both sides sense high stakes. "Same-sex marriage--that's out there. But something going on in a more fierce and insidious way, under the radar, is what's happening in our schools," says Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, an influential conservative litigation group that earlier this year won a court order blocking a Montgomery County, Md., teachers' guide that disparaged Evangelicals for their views on gays. "They"--gay activists--"know if they make enough inroads into [schools], the same-sex-marriage battle will be moot."

Most gay activists would rather swallow glass than say Mat Staver was right about something, but they know that last year's big UCLA survey of college freshmen found that 57% favor same-sex marriage (only about 36% of all adults do). Even as adult activists bicker in court, young Americans--including many young conservatives--are becoming thoroughly, even nonchalantly, gay- positive. From young ages, straight kids are growing up with more openly bisexual, gay and sexually uncertain classmates. In the 1960s, gay men recalled first desiring other males at an average age of 14; it was 17 for lesbians. By the '90s, the average had dropped to 10 for gays and 12 for lesbians, according to more than a dozen studies reviewed by the author of The New Gay Teenager, Ritch Savin-Williams, who chairs Cornell's human-development department.

Children who become aware of their homosexual attractions no longer need endure the baleful combination of loneliness and longing that characterized the childhoods of so many gay adults. Gay kids can now watch fictional and real teens who are out on shows like Desperate Housewives, the dating show Next on MTV and Degrassi (a high school drama on the N network whose wild popularity among adolescents is assured by the fact that few adults watch it). Publishers like Arthur A. Levine Books (of Harry Potter fame) and the children's division at Simon & Schuster have released something like a dozen novels about gay adolescents in the past two years. New, achingly earnest books like Rainbow Road (Simon & Schuster), in which three gay teens take a road trip, are coming this month. Gay kids can subscribe to the 10-month-old glossy YGA Magazine (YGA stands for "young gay America") and meet thousands of other little gays via young gay america com or Gay boys can chat, vote for the Lord of the Rings character they would most like to date--Legolas is leading--learn how to have safe oral sex and ogle pictures of young men in their underwear on the ruttish Not that you have to search so far into the Web: when University of Pittsburgh freshman Aaron Arnold, 18, decided to reveal his homosexuality at 15, he just Googled "coming out," which led to myriad advice pages.

While the phrase "That's so gay" seems to have permanently entered the (straight) teen vernacular, at many schools it is now profoundly uncool to be seen as anti-gay. Straight kids meet and gossip and find hookups on websites like where a routine question is whether they like guys or girls or both. When Savin-Williams surveyed 180 young men ages 14 to 25 for an earlier book, "... And Then I Became Gay," he found that nearly all had received positive, sometimes enthusiastic, responses when they first came out. (Many others are received with neutrality, even boredom: University of Washington senior Aaron Schwitters, who was not interviewed by Savin-Williams, says when he came out to his fellow College Republicans at a club meeting last year, "there was five seconds of awkward silence, someone said 'O.K.,' and we moved on.") That doesn't mean young lesbians and gays will never get shoved in the hallway, and multiple studies have shown that gay kids are at higher risk for suicide than their straight peers are. But the preponderance of Savin-Williams' 20 years of research indicates that most gay kids today face an environment that's more uncertain than unwelcoming. In a 2002 study he quotes in the new book, gay adolescents at a Berkeley, Calif., school said just 5% of their classmates had responded negatively to their sexuality.

O.K., that's Berkeley, but the trend is clear: according to Kevin Jennings, who in 1990 founded a gay-teacher group that later morphed into GLSEN, many of the kids who start GSAs identify themselves as straight. Some will later come out, of course, but Jennings believes a majority of GSA members are heterosexuals who find anti-gay rhetoric as offensive as racism. "We're gonna win," says Jennings, speaking expansively of the gay movement, "because of what's happening in high schools right now ... This is the generation that gets it."

see link below for rest of the article, or time magazine for Oct,8816,1112856,00.html